Aging and menopause takes a toll on the body. Some of those changes are private (vaginal dryness, anyone?), while others are far more difficult to hide from the outside world (hot flashes, we’re looking at you!).
Weight gain is one of those changes that can sneak up on us, and for many women, it’s the most obvious and persistent menopause symptom. While the average woman will gain approximately 5 pounds as a result of menopause, some will gain much more — especially if they already struggle with weight maintenance or obesity.
Here we address some of the biggest questions around menopause and weight gain.
Will I gain weight after menopause?
It’s perfectly normal to experience weight gain after menopause, but menopause on its own is not always the culprit. As we age, we lose muscle mass and gain fat. So even if you stick with the same healthy diet and exercise that you’ve always relied on, you may still gain weight — and that weight will be more difficult to lose.
Of course, hormonal changes play a role, too, causing many women to gain weight around their hips and thighs. Declining estrogen levels can also cause a dip in energy levels, making it harder to summon the energy for regular exercise.
What causes that weight gain?
This is the part that seems extra unfair. The sleeplessness and mood swings that many women experience before and after menopause can contribute to weight gain. Sleep deprivation causes us to produce more of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of the hormone leptin, which makes us feel full. That makes it easier to overeat without even realizing it.
And then, of course, there is the stress that many women experience as the result of other menopause symptoms (hot flashes don’t exactly have a calming effect on the psyche.) More stress equals more cortisol, which equals an increased appetite and sugar cravings.
So even if you’re not typically predisposed to weight gain, other menopause symptoms make it a lot easier to pack on pounds.
Will exercise help me lose the menopause weight?
Exercise is important, and most medical professionals recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Now, that might sound like a lot, but you can break it down into 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days of the week. Regular exercise helps to sustain weight loss and has other positive effects, like increased energy. But there’s a saying that goes “You can’t outrun a bad diet,” and exercise alone will not be enough to help with weight loss. You have to eat well.
What should I eat to reduce menopause symptoms?
According to the Mayo Clinic, most women in their 50s need 200 fewer calories a day compared to when they were younger. But we’re not talking about dieting. The decade before menopause is the time for a lifestyle upgrade — and that includes an upgrade in the food you eat.
- Lean proteins like chicken, fish, beans, tofu, egg whites, and Greek yogurt will help you feel fuller longer.
- Foods high in fiber — like flax seeds, for example — help improve insulin sensitivity.
- Healthy fats from avocados, almonds, tuna, olive oil, and salmon are good for the brain.
- Eat every three to four hours to ward off hunger and keep energy up.
- Get your carbs from whole fruits and vegetables.
- Cut out foods with added sugars.
- Skip anything heavily processed.
- Avoid alcohol.
Does estrogen help with menopause-related weight gain?
Some studies have shown that estrogen may play a role in body weight. There is evidence that suggests that estrogen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could help increase resting metabolic rate, thus slowing potential weight gain. But HRT comes with a number of side effects, including bloating, mood changes, and headaches. It has also been linked to certain types of cancer.
Embrace your body — and take care of it
Weight gain during menopause is unavoidable for many women, and one of the biggest challenges can be accepting age-related physical changes. It’s easier said than done, but be kind to yourself. Aging is natural and normal. So are all of the (often frustrating) symptoms that come with it. But give yourself a break and but self-care at the top of your to-do list. Eat right. Exercise. Get plenty of sleep. Reduce stress. And find something to love about yourself each day.